Tassie tiger hopes suffer blow 08/02/2001
Hopes of reviving the Tasmanian tiger and other species
thought to be extinct have suffered a blow after the failure
of British scientists to clone the moa.
Scientists at Oxford University conducted a study on the
moa, the giant New Zealand bird which died out 400 years
ago, and the Madagascan elephant bird, which has been
extinct twice as long.
Their work explored whether extinct species could be
brought back to life through cloning carried out using DNA
from preserved samples - the idea at the centre of the
fictional film Jurassic Park, in which dinosaurs were revived.
However, while the scientists were able to construct the
first genome sequences from the moa and the elephant
bird, those sequences fell far short of what is required to
clone a species.
The team concluded that such attempts to bring back any
long-extinct species were "almost certain" to prove futile.
"These experiments have brought home to us the
incredible difficulties of sequencing long stretches of
ancient genetic material," Dr Alan Cooper said in the
"Jurassic Park is a nice idea, but ultimately it seems that it will be impossible for us to clone extinct species."
The findings come as a setback to earlier hopes - sparked
by a boom in cloning technology in the mid-1990s - of
reviving the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, which was
believed to have died out in the 1930s.
The Oxford team did, however, arrive at one conclusion
which may surprise many on both sides of the Tasman -
that the kiwi probably originated in Australia.
Their research linked the evolution of the moa, the
elephant bird, and other flightless birds including the kiwi
and emu to the break-up of Gondwanaland, the huge land
mass that stretched across the southern hemisphere
140-180 million years ago.
Dr Cooper said his team believed the kiwi developed in
Australia and migrated to New Zealand about 70 million
years ago along a then-exposed Norfolk Ridge or Lord
Howe Rise that linked the two countries.
The sea later closed in, isolating the kiwi in New Zealand.